Arts: Study in time

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The Independent Culture
AILEEN RITCHIE'S The Juju Girl is the latest addition to that almost indecently swelling genre: the play that moves back and forth between the present and some period in the past for the purposes of strenuous ironic counterpointing. But this new piece is not in the same league as Arcadia or Handbag. Here, the twin focuses are Rhodesia in 1929 and Zimbabwe 100 years on. In John Tiffany's spare, lucid and atmospheric production, the appealing Susan Vidler doubles as Catherine, struggling to continue the work of her Scottish missionary father in the face of an ambitious cleric husband who disapproves of her rapport with the blacks, and as Kate, the granddaughter who travels from Scotland to Africa a century later to scatter Catherine's ashes on the continent she had been forced to abandon.

It's a play that is obviously written from the heart and from personal experience, but the symmetries and asymmetries between the periods and their concepts of faith, nationhood and race relations are too deliberately staked out. There are moments of power and mystery, to which the production does full justice, yet as the two heroines make their divergent journeys (to exile, to freedom), you tend to be always a couple of steps ahead of them.